It is “not a promising beginning” to the PDP-BJP coalition government in Jammu and Kashmir, as senior PDP leader Muzaffar Hussain Baig has conceded. First, chief minister Mufti Mohammad Sayeed suggested that separatists and Pakistan enabled peaceful polls in J&K, sparking a furore that forced Union home minister Rajnath Singh to clarify the government’s stand in Parliament. Close on its heels was a written statement by PDP legislators, demanding that the mortal remains of Afzal Guru be returned to his family. Guru was hanged for his alleged role in the 2001 terrorist attack on the Indian Parliament and subsequently buried in Tihar jail.
The BJP leadership will be privately seething but these controversies provide an early indication of the pressures that the PDP experiences in the Valley, after it took a u-turn on its approach to the BJP. Sayeed’s party ran its election campaign on an anti-BJP plank. The PDP now feels the need to placate its own constituencies before getting down to the business of governance. The challenging of governing a state like J&K will entail a measure of jostling over the symbolic and the material between the two parties. Previous coalitions like the PDP-Congress and the National Conference-Congress did not see eye to eye and often worked at parallels or cross-purposes, despite having a measure of ideological consonance. The BJP will need to develop a more textured understanding of the Valley’s dynamics. The PDP MLAs may have signed the statement with a view to ensuring that an independent legislator voted in favour of the party in the legislative council election, but the issue of Guru’s death itself has a wider resonance. Many in Kashmir believe that Guru was innocent while civil liberties activists point to irregularities in the prosecution’s case.
In addition, the insensitive manner of his execution whereby his family was neither notified nor given charge of his body rankles in Kashmir as a sign of grave injustice. Even as the BJP discusses topics like the partial lifting of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act or the transfer of land from security forces back to civilians, it will need to understand the effects of the past on contemporary political choices.
The PDP too must pick its political battles carefully. It comes to power facing scepticism about unfulfilled promises in the past and confronts severe economic challenges, particularly after last year’s floods in September. It needs to understand the impact of such posturing on BJP politicians who will no doubt have sympathetic audiences in the capital.